In a symbolic vote, the Richmond City Council on Monday backed banning guns in city-owned buildings and public parks.
The council approved an ordinance that Mayor Levar Stoney proposed a week earlier seeking to bar residents from bringing firearms into public spaces. The ordinance, which conflicts with current state law, won’t take effect unless the Virginia General Assembly allows localities to prohibit guns in municipal buildings at a special session set for July 9.
While acknowledging the hang-up, a majority of council members said they believed taking the step would keep residents and city employees safer. Some on the body said they hoped the council’s stance would send a message to state lawmakers in advance of the session.
“I hope they make the decision to give us local control,” said Michael Jones, the 9th District councilman.
Gov. Ralph Northam called the special session after the mass shooting at a Virginia Beach government center that left 12 people dead and four wounded in May. The gunman, a city employee, was killed in a shootout with police.
Stoney proposed the local ordinance in advance of the session, saying he wanted it approved so a ban could take effect as soon as possible if state law changes. The prospect likely faces long odds at the special session. Democrats control neither chamber of the state legislature, and Republicans have rejected past efforts.
Undeterred, Stoney issued a statement after the council vote heralding the decision and challenging members of the General Assembly to act.
“Now it’s time to take this momentum across the street and hold our commonwealth’s elected representatives accountable for protecting our children and families,” Stoney said in the statement. “Leaders in the city of Richmond proved tonight they have the spine to act. Now the ball is in the General Assembly’s court.”
At a news conference announcing the ordinance last week, Stoney criticized state legislators for what he said was “spineless leadership” on gun laws. Some on the council said they didn’t think the mayor’s comment would sway lawmakers.
“It’s not as if the General Assembly is going to give us permission to do this any time soon, especially when we have our mayor calling members of the General Assembly spineless,” said 2nd District Councilwoman Kimberly Gray, who favored delaying a vote on the ban before ultimately voting in favor of it.
The council approved the ordinance on a 7-0-2 vote. Supporting it were Andreas Addison, 1st District; Gray; Council Vice President Chris Hilbert, 3rd District; Parker Agelasto, 5th District; Ellen Robertson, 6th District; Council President Cynthia Newbille, 7th District; and Jones.
Councilwomen Kristen Larson, 4th District, and Reva Trammell, 8th District, abstained. Each raised questions about how the ban would be enforced and voiced frustration that the council was set to vote on it a week after Stoney proposed it.
Trammell, who heads the council’s public safety committee, requested a 60-day continuance to allow for more public input. She also said she wanted to meet and discuss state law with members of the General Assembly.
“That would give us time to reach out to the General Assembly and see if we can iron things out and talk to them one-on-one,” Trammell said. A majority of the council rejected her request.
The vote came after a public hearing on the ban that saw about 10 residents and city employees address the council. Among those supporting it was Glenwood Burley, a retired Richmond police officer who implored the council to take additional steps beyond the ordinance to secure city buildings.
“We have to be proactive. We cannot be reactive. We cannot be Virginia Beach,” Burley said, alluding to the mass shooting.
Two people opposed the ban, saying it would do little to keep anyone safer.
“This is shortsighted and naive,” said Robert Sadtler, an 8th District resident who is a lobbyist for the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group.